What Are the Requirements for Earning a Doctorate Degree?

In most academic settings, the requirements for earning a doctorate include completing coursework and an original dissertation. Some doctoral-degree programs also necessitate oral or written comprehensive examinations. This article does not address professional doctorate degrees such as the M.D., D.O., D.D.S. or J.D. Learn more about doctoral-degree requirements here.

Application Requirements

Some doctoral-degree programs require candidates to hold master's degrees, but most accept candidates who have earned bachelor's degrees from reputable colleges or universities. All transcripts must be submitted. Letters of recommendation, personal interviews and college admission test scores might also be required. The admission test will depend on the academic field of the doctorate program; the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) are the most common, but business schools may require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores.

Facts About Career Prospects for Doctoral Degree Holders

Percentage of Jobs That Require This Degree (in U.S.) 2.6%
Number of Doctoral Degrees Conferred (2012-13) 175,000
Common Careers Researcher, Postsecondary Teacher, Psychologist
Common Fields of Study Mathematics, Computer Sciences, Epidemiology, Education

Sources: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Coursework Requirements

Students who hold master's degrees have fewer course requirements than those who enter with bachelor's degrees. Doctoral-level coursework includes some classes in the chosen field with a strong focus on research methods and design. Because most Ph.D. holders will eventually become professors, doctoral-degree students might be required to teach undergraduate classes.

Research Requirements

Students in doctoral-degree programs begin doing research with professors in the first or second year of study. From the third year on, they focus their efforts on original research and writing, which is known as the dissertation. A committee of professors advises students on their research concepts and proposals.

Examination Requirements

Many doctoral-degree programs require students to pass comprehensive examinations in their chosen subjects at the end of the first or second year. If they pass, they advance to the candidacy phase.

The Oral Defense

Doctoral students must submit their finished dissertations to special committees. After the committee has reviewed the dissertation, students must answer questions about their research methods and conclusions. If students have worked with a committee from the beginning of the research process, the dissertation defense should go more smoothly. Once the committee approves the dissertation, candidates are awarded Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.

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